Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Last Rescue by Howard Wasdin

book cover
The Last Rescue
by Howard Wasdin
with Joel Kilpatrick

ISBN-13: 9781595555946
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Released: October 28, 2014

Source: Review copy from the publisher through BookLook.

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
As a Navy SEAL, Howard Wasdin survived the firestorm made famous in "Black Hawk Down" only to return to a world without support, without a mission, and soon without his family. Wounded in Mogadishu and facing a torturous journey of rehabilitation and recovery, he came home to find his marriage falling apart and his world upended. Then he met Debbie, an accountant emerging from her own trial by fire.

"The Last Rescue" is an unforgettable tale of brokenness and healing, going deep into the firing line of modern warfare, through the agony of broken marriages, and onto a path of redemption and love. With a clear-eyed view of the inevitability of heartache and the power of God's faithfulness, Howard and Debbie remind us that no matter what our circumstances, we should never, ever, give up hope.

My Review:
The Last Rescue is a memoir. Howard is the main viewpoint of the story, but Debbie gives her viewpoint of events at several points. Howard talked about his childhood and his injury in war to explain where he was coming from, but most of the book was about what happened when he returned: his recovery from his injury, his marriages, his attempts to make a living off his military skills, and finally choosing a new career--and life--path.

He was very open about admitting the ways that he was at fault in various relationship breakdowns and why he was acting that way. It was interesting to see his attitude changing from desperately wanting a loving family situation and needing to hold on to his "rock star" warrior status to slowly learning how to be a part of creating that loving, supportive family situation he craved and moving on to a new career path.

Though "rediscovering their faith in God" is in the book description, they didn't say much about their religious journey. The references were mainly about him feeling that God worked events in his life to bring healing and fulfillment and why he felt God had kept him alive. This book might interest returning war veterans who are having trouble readjusting as Howard has "been there, done that."

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Brain Fitness by Professor Richard Restak M.D.

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Optimizing Brain Fitness
by Professor Richard Restak M.D.

DVD & Paperback book
12 lectures
29 minutes per lecture
Publisher: The Great Courses

Source: Bought through Great Courses for $20.00.

Book Description, Modified from Great Courses Website:
Your brain is constantly changing through a process known as brain plasticity. While it was traditionally thought that our brains were fully formed by adulthood, the truth is that our life experiences continually shape and mold our brains in fascinating ways. You can improve your brain in a range of areas, including memory; attention and focus; learning and creativity; and sensory acuity and fine motor skills.

Dr. Restak includes exercises that will enhance and improve your brain's essential functions, like:

-In one minute, name as many animals as you can without repeating them. You'll have to use your working memory to mentally eliminate animals you've already named. A desirable score is between 17 and 20 animals.

-Close your eyes and envision the room around you, and then open them and check for accuracy. Repeat this memory-recall exercise and pay closer attention to smaller details, such as the number of magazines on a table.

My Review:
Optimizing Brain Fitness is a set of lectures about your brain which included exercises and games to improve your brain function. The DVD set came with a course book that covered some of the highlights of each lecture. The professor was very focused on what he was saying, so he often didn't follow the director's cues about the camera changing. This was distracting. The visual components added little to nothing to the lecture, so it might actually be easier to follow these lectures as audio only.

In the first few lectures, I often thought, "okay, that statement obviously meant something significant to you, but it means nothing to me." It was technical, but the problem was more like he was leaving out connecting information which he assumed we knew. The course book didn't fill in the blanks. This got better as the lectures went on, though, and the last three lectures were pretty good in terms of being understandable and applicable.

I had hoped to learn about the research on brain plasticity and practical, everyday things to help improve my brain. He didn't usually explain the specific research studies behind what he was teaching. He did have some practical exercises, like knitting or cooking, but many of the exercises were basically things you find in brain-puzzler books. I'd rather spend my time cooking than doing puzzles that have no direct real-world application, so I was disappointed there weren't more "real life" workout examples. There was some good material in these lectures, but it could have been so much better.

If you've seen this DVD, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion in the comments.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Pompeii: Daily Life in an Ancient Roman City by Steven L. Tuck

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Daily Life in an Ancient Roman City
by Professor Steven L. Tuck, Ph.D.

DVD & Paperback book
24 lectures
29 minutes per lecture
Publisher: The Great Courses

Source: Bought through the publisher catalog. (The DVD format can get as low as $59.95 when on sale.)

DVD Description, Modified from Website:
While the account of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79 is compelling, Pompeii holds a much more intriguing story for historians: a tale of everyday 1st-century life, flash-frozen in time.

In the opening lectures, you'll consider the geology and geography of this region and learn about the area's pre-Roman settlers. Next, you'll hear how the city was rediscovered in the 1700s, and examine the cutting-edge excavation techniques used to uncover the city's buried treasures. Then Professor Tuck reconstructs a typical day of Pompeian residents, including:

-Follow Chryseis, a slave girl, as she accompanies her mistress to the public baths.
-Trace the steps of two city officials as they survey major civic structures and carry out their duties in local government.
-Attend the elaborate funeral procession of the exalted priestess Eumachia.
-Visit a fullonica—the ancient equivalent of a dry-cleaner—and meet the owner, a freed slave named Stephanus.
-Witness the rituals experienced by a young bride on the night before her wedding.

You'll gain remarkable insights into agriculture, commerce, civic planning, entertainment, local government, private life, and other aspects of the Pompeian experience. As you visit cliff-top villas, local businesses, civic buildings, and private homes, you'll examine the intriguing clues these structures hold about the lives of everyday individuals. Finally, you'll relive the cataclysmic eruption of 79 through computer reconstructions, images, and maps that trace the impact of Vesuvius on the surrounding communities.

To bring these structures to life, Professor Tuck shares exclusive photos he's taken of the surviving ruins and art, later artists' renditions of Pompeian life, videos, and remarkable computer reconstructions of these ancient structures.

My Review:
Pompeii: Daily Life in an Ancient Roman City is a set of DVD lectures on daily Roman life and Pompeii throughout its history. The DVD set came with a course book that summarized and covered the highlights of each lecture. The professor enjoys talking about Pompeii. He clearly conveyed the information and covered a lot of information without leaving me feeling overwhelmed.

I visited Pompeii and Herculaneum during one day back in 1997. It was an awesome experience, but I would have liked more time to simply "be" in the houses and streets and really look at everything. I felt like I was missing the significance of much of what I was looking at. I've watched documentaries and read books on the cities in an effort to capture what I was missing that day, but only this lecture series had everything I've been looking for. This is great resource for anyone going to visit the city (or who wish they could) or who are simply interested in the details of everyday Roman life.

As we get the history of the city, we visit various parts of the city through photographs and short videos. The professor pointed out the significance of what we're seeing and what it tells us about the people who lived there. He did a great job of explaining what information he used to come to various conclusions. I loved that he wasn't just "telling stories" to fill in blanks in knowledge but was using valid sources to help us understand what we really do know about what we're seeing and what life was like. I'd highly recommend this DVD lecture series.

If you've seen this lecture series, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion in the comments.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Daily Painting by Carol Marine

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Daily Painting
by Carol Marine

ISBN-13: 9780770435332
Trade Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: Watson-Guptill
Released: November 4, 2014

Source: Review copy from the publisher through Blogging for Books.

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
Jump-start artistic creativity, experimentation and growth, and increase sales--for artists of all levels, from novices to professionals. Author Carol Marine was suffering from painter's block--until she discovered "daily painting." The idea is simple: do art (usually small) often and post it online. Marine reveals the tips and tricks that helped her and other daily painters pick up the paintbrush and start creating beautiful, bountiful, marketable work.

My Review:
Daily Painting is a book about painting, though much of it applied to any art medium. The author paints mainly in oil, but watercolor and acrylic paintings and even an ink drawing are used in the illustrations.

I was already painting small and often when I picked up this book since I've found this a great way to learn how to paint. I still found this book encouraging and useful. She suggested working in 6" by 6" panels (or similar small size) and setting aside a regular time to paint--daily, weekly, whatever--so you can get regular practice.

She described what daily painting is, why you should do it, and the materials and set-up she uses (mainly oils to paint still life, but she also suggested other topics to paint). She then taught the basics of value, color mixing, proportion, and composition. She described how she works--a "loose" style in oils. Then she moved on to advice from different artists in dealing with artistic block. She wrapped up the book by describing how to photograph your work to post it online and how to sell your work online. She gave enough detail for all but the most novice computer users.

I was left wondering how one ships a painting in the mail--it's assumed we will, but it's not described. Perhaps there are no special considerations so she didn't feel the need to include it. Otherwise, she did a good job of describing daily painting and the process of photographing and selling art online.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Monstrously Funny Cartons by Christopher Hart

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Monstrously Funny Cartons
by Christopher Hart

ISBN-13: 978-0823007165
Paperback: 160 pages
Publisher: Watson-Guptill
Released: October 14, 2014

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description, Modified from Goodreads:
Learn to draw the silliest and scariest monsters, zombies, vampires, witches, mummies, and other creepy cartoon favorites. Cartooning master Christopher Hart teaches aspiring artists all the drawing tips and tricks they need to create laugh-out-loud renditions of their favorite monsters and scary creatures.

This cartooning guide shows readers how to capture the lighter side of these creepy creatures by combining them with Hart's incredibly popular cartoon drawing style. Taking readers step-by-step through each monster type, Hart demonstrates how to draw everything from terrifyingly silly heads to wacky comic strip-like scenes of monstrous menace.

My Review:
Monstrously Funny Cartons is a step-by-step drawing guide for making funny monster cartoons. Much of the text is spent making jokes, so the main learning is done by the reader copying the drawing steps to replicate Hart's drawings. Once you've drawn his cartoons enough, the theory seems to be that you'll be able to start modifying them to make your own funny monsters. His target audience appears to be teens (and adults) who have some basic drawing experience but are content to learn by imitation.

He covered zombies (25 pages), vampires (37 pages), monsters that go bump (11 pages), cartoon aliens (9 pages), mummies (17 pages), legendary monsters (7 pages), weird & bizarre (17 pages), and scenes/backgrounds (19 pages). So nearly half the book is on zombies and vampires. In this book, he likes to make monsters "funny" by exaggerating features, so he gives hints and shows how to do this.

The text was mainly jokes, but he did have some teaching text. It ranged from "His ears are created with a combination of straight and curved lines" (which is obvious from the drawing) to "Push up the lower eyelids for a vengeful expression" (pages 42-42). He often didn't explain why you should make the feature that way, so you're left to guess if it's whim (and can be modified) or if there's an important, underlying reason to it.

I can see teens having a great deal of fun with this book and quickly creating a range of monsters of their own. I really like to know the "whys" before doing something and had expected to quickly be making original cartoons, and this book didn't really leave me feeling confident. I did enjoy making some cartoon aliens, though, as that section gave a bit more detail on coming up with your own designs.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Chaucer's Tale by Paul Strohm

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Chaucer's Tale:
1386 and the Road to Canterbury by Paul Strohm

ISBN-13: 9780670026432
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Viking Adult
Released: November 13, 2014

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
A lively microbiography of Chaucer that tells the story of the tumultuous year that led to the creation of The Canterbury Tales.

In 1386, the middle-aged Chaucer was living in London, working as a mid-level bureaucrat and sometime poet. Chaucer was swept up in a series of events that left him jobless, a widower, and living isolated in the countryside of Kent without the close circle of friends with whom he had shared his poetry. At the loneliest time of his life, Chaucer made the revolutionary decision to write for a national audience, for posterity, and for fame.

Brought expertly to life by Paul Strohm, this is the eye-opening story of the birth one of the most celebrated literary creations of the English language.

My Review:
Chaucer's Tale is a biography about Chaucer with a focus on the events that led to his decision to write The Canterbury Tales. Not a lot of personal details are know about Chaucer. The author took what the records do say about him and then gave details about what life was like for a person in that position. He also described the politics that influenced Chaucer's life.

For example, we're told details about what life was like in London and how noisy and poorly-lighted his London gatehouse apartment would have been. We're told what the controller of the London wool customs did and what serving on a parliament would have been like so we get an idea of what his jobs were like. We're told what the literary scene was like--how poetry was usually written in certain ways and how it was read to a small audience rather than read in written form.

When the politics went bad, Chaucer lost his support structure and had to re-think his goals. He had to change his audience and writing style, which tapped into the social and technical changes that eventually brought him to fame.

The book was a quick, easy read. As I was more interested in the historical background of Chaucer's life than the man himself, I thoroughly enjoyed the details about the time period and the influences that prompted the creation of The Canterbury Tales. If you're looking for a lot of personal details about the man or a detailed critique of his writings, this may not be the book you're looking for.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Baby Care Book by Dr. Friedman, Dr. Saunders

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The Baby Care Book:
A Complete Guide from Birth to 12 Months Old by Dr. Jeremy Friedman
Dr. Norman Saunders

ISBN-13: 9780778801603
Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: Robert Rose
Released: September 14th 2007

Source: Borrowed from library.

Book Description from Goodreads:
The Baby Care Book is a clear, thoughtful and objective guide that helps parents raise a newborn. The subject of parenting is often confusing. The great value of this book is that it empowers parents with knowledge and allows them to make personal choices for each circumstance and situation.

Both authors are leading experts from the world-renowned Hospital for Sick Children. The Baby Care Book covers an extensive range of topics in clear, easy-to-understand language. Specially commissioned "real life" photographs throughout complement the text, providing additional instructions and information.

The chapters include: Getting Ready to Have Your Baby Your Baby's First Few Days Feeding Your Baby Your Baby's First Month Helping Your Baby to Sleep Your Baby's Months 2 and 3 Playing with Your Baby Your Baby's Months 4 to 6 Safety and Childproofing Your Baby's Months 7 to 12.

My Review:
The Baby Care Book is a book on baby care from prenatal to 12 months old. My my brother and his wife want to start their family. They asked my mom to be there when a baby is born, so she wanted to read up on the latest baby care information to make sure she remembered things correctly. I checked this book out of my library and gave it to her, and she gave me the following review of it:

"I was very impressed with this book. It covers everything you might have questions about and would be a good choice for first-time parents. It has good pictures--and many of them. It has a chart in the back for various illnesses and that chart directs you to the pages in the book that give more information. It's a good reference book for practical use. I recommended that [my brother and his wife] buy this book and read it."

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.